Paul’s first letter to the baby church at Thessalonica starts this way: “Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy: To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace to you and peace. We always thank God for all of you, making mention of you constantly in our prayers. We recall, in the presence of our God and Father, your work produced by faith, your labor motivated by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 1:1-3). In the opening sentence, Paul identified himself and his coworkers, told of his constant prayers on their behalf, and then joyfully remembered the church’s faith, love and hope.
This triad of Christian character is found elsewhere in Paul’s writings. The “love chapter” concludes with “faith, hope, and love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul was very theological in the first three chapters, but as chapter four opens, he is practical. He writes, “walk worthy of the calling you have received!” How? By “bearing with one another in love,” holding fast to “one hope” and “one faith” (Ephesians 4:1-6). In the fifth chapter of Romans, Paul argues that our lives should exhibit faith, hope and love because we have been “justified by faith” and “have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”(Romans 5:1-5).
The Thessalonians weren’t saved because they exhibited these charter traits. Rather, faith, love and hope are the natural, practical results of their conversion. We aren’t saved by good works, but we are saved to do good works. “For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift, not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do” (Ephesians 2:8–10).
“We recall, in the presence of our God and Father, your work produced by faith, your labor motivated by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Thessalonians 1:3). Paul remembered the time when the Spirit of the Living God had graciously transformed the Thessalonians as a result of their faith. He had been witness to their labor, literally their toil, motivated by God’s love, and to their patience, persistence, and perseverance “inspired by hope” in Jesus.
In the past, they had responded faithfully to the Gospel. In the present, they were loving others and loving Jesus. And they were hoping for His return in the future. Faith, love and hope. Past, present, and future.
Notice too, that Jesus is the object of each of these characteristics. The Thessalonians had faith in Jesus, their love was motivated by Jesus, and their hope was inspired by Jesus.
Paul begins his second epistle to the Thessalonians, again making mention of this triad of Christ-like character. “We ought to thank God always for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, since your faith is flourishing and the love each one of you has for one another is increasing. Therefore, we ourselves boast about you among God’s churches—about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and afflictions that you are enduring” (2 Thessalonians 1:3–4). Their faith was flourishing. Their love was increasing. Their hope was strong, even in the face of persecution.
If the great Apostle wrote a letter to you or to your church, would he recognize your faith, love and hope? Is your faith flourishing? Is your love increasing? Is your hope strong?
All Scripture quotations, except as otherwise noted, are from
Holman Bible Publishers’ Christian Standard Bible.